Say Yes to Education: Building Resiliency in Syracuse City High School Students


An Interview with Say Yes to Education Executive Director, Ahmeed Turner

The 2020 graduation rate of Black, Latino and Asian students in the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) met or exceeded that of White students

63% of the Syracuse City School District Class of 2020 attended college after graduation.

Say Yes to Education is an idea planted in 2008 with funding goals achieved by 2016. Dozens of companies, foundations and individuals donated funds and time to implement this novel concept at the time.

Under the heading on their website, How it Works, says it all about the program, “Say Yes Syracuse strives to help young people realize the possibilities of higher education. By providing services for elementary, middle, and high school students and their families, Say Yes works to ensure students have the opportunity to secure scholarship dollars toward a college degree or certificate. We believe every Syracuse City School District student can become a successful member of the workforce.”

Say Yes’s coalition of more than 100 private college and university partners, located in 21 states and the District of Columbia, offer full-tuition scholarships to eligible Say Yes Scholars.

According to Executive Director, Ahmeed Turner, “the premise to Say Yes to Education is that all students in an urban community have gifts and talents. And as a community we can help them realize those gifts and talents by supporting them in their pathway to a career. So, from kindergarten to 12th grade, what Say Yes wants to do, and what a community wants to do is limit all of the barriers that get in the way of classroom participation. In the Syracuse City School District, what our partners have done; there are family support specialists in each of the schools.”

The Say Yes to Education Syracuse program, has systems in place to “level to playing field” as explained by Turner, “There are promise zone behavior specialists, there are mental health clinics, there’s also legal support that students can get from the volunteer lawyer’s project.   All in an effort to decrease the number of barriers that get in the way of student attendance and student participation in the classroom. We feel strongly that if we’re able to do that, that students will perform better in school, behave better. And they will plan with more foresight on a career after high school It goes without saying, the most effective bridge out of poverty is education.  So, we try to level the playing field with a tuition guarantee scholarship. But, most importantly we just want the community to know that we are rich, we are rich with gifted and talented students that can give back to the community, that can enter the economic pipeline and enhance our community to strive.”

63% of the Syracuse City School District Class of 2020 attended college after graduation.

Turner continues, “A lot of people don’t fully understand how wraparound supports are connected to our higher ed college compact. Our Higher Ed College Compact is a group of private partner colleges that have agreed to guarantee tuition to Say Yes Syracuse students, if they are admitted. And They have to be admitted on their own. The connection that the college compact has with the system of supports is that they know as a Say Yes community that we are doing all that we can to support students. So, the appeal is that our students not necessarily are high academic achievers or high academic performers. But that our students have a high level of resiliency. They can face adversity and keep going, as the saying goes, ‘take a licking and keep on ticking’.”

Say Yes Syracuse Highlights include:

  • 4,900 Say Yes students have enrolled in 2 and 4-year colleges (public and private) since the fall of 2009.
  • From 2008 to 2020, $12 million in Say Yes Syracuse scholarships have been paid for scholars to date.
  • From 2008 to 2020, more than $144 million in cumulative external aid has been provided to Say Yes Syracuse scholars to date.
  • 63% of the Syracuse City School District Class of 2020 attended college after graduation.
  • 79% of the Class of 2018 continued on to their second year of college in 2019.
  • The 2020 graduation rate of Black, Latino and Asian students in the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) met or exceeded that of White students, signaling that the program is helping students break through challenges historically caused by systemic racism.
  • To find out more, please read their 2019-2020 Report Card.

Say Yes to Education Facts and Q & A 

(Information via Say Yes to Education Website)

Please note: Private Partner colleges are the primary source of funding to Say Yes students attending their institutions. While all of the colleges have agreed to the basic conditions of the Say Yes program, colleges may have individual policies and restrictions. The determination of the actual award that a student receives will be made by the college at their discretion based on college policies.  Partner Colleges with unique conditions to the agreement with Say Yes have an asterisk and a brief description of the unique qualifiers in their agreement. Please contact the colleges directly for additional eligibility information.

Over 100 Say Yes private college and university partners are located in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and offer the organization’s students a broad array of academic opportunities and campus experiences, from small liberal arts colleges to big research universities.

Students graduating from a Syracuse City School District High Schools are eligible for the financial aid guarantee of the Say Yes to Education program if they meet certain criteria.

Students may be considered for eligibility if they do not meet the eligibility criteria but they have extenuating circumstances.

Scholarships

Say Yes Syracuse believes every student has the potential to succeed, so equal opportunity drives our scholarship distribution process. All graduates of the Syracuse City School District are eligible for scholarships to any State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) school to which they are admitted. In addition, scholarships are available to more than 100 private colleges and universities based on financial eligibility. Additional funding opportunities are available in the form of opportunity and choice grants. Click here to learn more about the types of scholarships and their eligibility.

Student Responsibilities

To remain eligible students will need to complete a FAFSA application and a New York State TAP application (if attending a college in New York State) each year and complete the financial aid process at their college. Students must also maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress. For Say Yes, this is defined as successfully completing a minimum of 12 credit hours a semester and maintaining a GPA of 2.0 or better.

What happens if a student does not meet the student responsibilities?

A student’s academic record will be reviewed at the end of each semester. If a student completes less than 12 credit hours in any given semester, or does not have a 2.0 GPA, they can make up for it by taking additional credits in the following semester and/or complete the semester with a GPA of 2.0 or better.

If a student has not completed the required 12 credit hours and does not have a 2.0 or better for 2 consecutive semesters, the student will not be eligible for Say Yes awards the following semester.

Students who do not meet the standards of academic progress at the end of an academic year can enroll over the summer to make up their deficiencies. Remember that no Say Yes funding is available to students over the summer.

The Say Yes Tuition Scholarship is available to students who:

  1. Reside in Syracuse.
  2. Complete grades 10 – 12 in a Syracuse City School District high school or Syracuse Academy Science Charter School or 9 through 11 for early graduates. With proper documentation, the following students are automatically deemed eligible regardless of consecutive years of school completion:
    • Have refugee status on an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or be an otherwise eligible noncitizen.
    • Legally designated as having McKinney-Vento status.
    • Have documented Foster Care placement or are a ward of the court.
  3. Have graduated from a Syracuse City School District high school or Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School.
  4. Enroll full-time at a Say Yes Syracuse partner college or university skipping not more than one fall after high school graduation.
  5. Complete and remain eligible for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and New York State TAP (Tuition Assistance Program).

Students can be considered for eligibility if they do not meet the above eligibility criteria and they have extenuating circumstances. If you do not meet the above eligibility criteria and you would like to be considered for a tuition scholarship you can appeal your eligibility by clicking here. You can also contact Dana Lyons at 315-883-5555 or dlyons@sayyessyracuse.org.

What does a student need to do to remain eligible once they have been admitted and enroll?

Students will need to complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and New York State TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) application each year and complete the financial aid process at their college. Students must also maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress. For Say Yes, this is defined as successfully completing a minimum of 12 credit hours a semester and maintaining a GPA of 2.0 or better.

What happens if a student does not earn the required 12 credit hours or does not have a semester GPA of a 2.0 or better?

A student’s academic record will be reviewed at the end of each semester. If a student has not met the student responsibilities (completed the required 12 credit hours and/or does not have a 2.0 or better for 2 consecutive semesters), the student will not be eligible for Say Yes awards the following semester.

Students who do not meet the student responsibilities at for 2 consecutive semesters are able to regain eligibility the following semester by meeting the student responsibilities, however will not receive a Say Yes award during that semester.